Did you know that Ezra has two beginnings in The Books of the Bible?

You probably already knew this, but in case you didn’t, in The Books of the Bible (the edition you recommend using with your study guides), the book of Ezra has two beginnings, with the first beginning truncated in the middle of Cyrus’s decree (pages 1401-1402).

This apparent “double beginning” is actually caused by the repetition of the Edict of Cyrus at the end of Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra. This is how ancient scribes showed that the parts of a book that was too long to be contained on a single scroll belonged together: They would copy some of the material from the start of the second scroll onto the end of the first scroll, to “stitch” them together.

In our English Bibles we see this only where Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah, originally one long work, has been broken up between Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah.  But in various manuscripts of the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Bible), there is similar “stitching” between 1 and 2 Samuel, 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles.

Because Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah is presented as one continuous work in The Books of the Bible, and because it’s formatted according to its natural literary divisions, the Edict of Cyrus, in abbreviated and then full form, appears twice at the start of a major division that coincides with the place where scribes originally divided this long work into Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah.

This repetition of material created a very interesting question for us on our project team as we were developing The Books of the Bible.  It’s virtually certain that Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah, as originally written, didn’t contain the abbreviated  material at the end of Chronicles.  This was added by scribes who put the book on scrolls.  So should this duplicated material be eliminated?  Or should we now consider it to be divinely inspired Scripture, something that God wants to be part of the Bible?  As you can see, we left it in.  Our hope was that the duplication (more striking in The Books of the Bible format) would lead people to ask about what was going on, as you just have.

Incidentally, in the latest update to the NIV, the word order has been changed to make the abbreviation at the end of Chronicles less abrupt.  In the 1978 and 1984 editions of the NIV, and in the 2005 TNIV, the translation followed the Hebrew word order. The TNIV, for example, said, “Any of his people among you — may the Lord their God be with them, and let them go up.”  (Go up where? To do what? Read on . . .) But the latest update to the NIV says, “Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.”  A better sense of closure, but less obviously abbreviated material that signals a “stitch” between scrolls.

Why do you take up Paul’s letters in a different order?

Q. You say at the start of your study guides that they won’t jump around in the Bible. But your guide to Paul’s Journey Letters begins in First and Second Thessalonians, then jumps back to First and Second Corinthians and Galatians, and then jumps even farther back to Romans.  What’s going on?

The guide to Paul’s Journey Letters takes up his first six letters, the ones he wrote while on his missionary journeys, in the order in which he likely wrote them. This allows groups to understand these letters within the course of Paul’s life and journeys and to appreciate how they express the development of his thought.

In traditional Bibles, Paul’s letters are placed in order of length, from longest to shortest. This makes it difficult to catch the flow from one letter to another as Paul travels from place to place and interacts with different communities of Jesus’ followers.

Someone once told me that they’d been to seminary and taken a New Testament background course, but they still didn’t “get” Paul until they read his letters in The Books of the Bible, where they’re placed in the same chronological order as in this study guide. (The just-published guide in this series to Paul’s Prison Letters takes up the rest of his letters in chronological order.)

If we’re used to the traditional order of the books of the Bible, we may indeed feel that we’re jumping around when we move “backwards” from Thessalonians to Corinthians and Galatians to Romans. But it’s important to realize that a fixed order of the books of the Bible is a relatively recent phenomenon. The order we know dates to the advent of printing a little before 1500. Prior to that, the books of the Old and New Testaments appeared in a great variety of orders.  (You can read more about this in chapter 2 of my book After Chapters and Verses.)

So we’re really not locked into any particular order and can use other orders to reach important goals. Reading and discussing Paul’s letters in the order he wrote them expresses respect for the way the word of God came to us in place and time as God inspired the Scriptures. It helps us appreciate how these God-breathed documents took form amidst the real-life experiences of flesh-and-blood people.

So even if this guide takes you through Paul’s letters in an order you’re not used to, let the newness of that experience help you develop a fresh appreciation for this man of God who became a powerful instrument to bring us the word of God.

How to get a copy of The Books of the Bible

To follow up on the previous post, here’s how you can get a copy of The Books of the Bible.

Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society) developed the edition, but it is now available through Zondervan, the commercial publisher of the NIV. The Books of the Bible is now being published in four volumes, which you can order  through this site.

If you have more questions about how we can read, study, preach, and teach the Bible without using chapters and verses, you can find out much more in my book After Chapters and Verses: Engaging the Bible in the Coming Generations.

Do we need to use The Books of the Bible with these guides?

Q. I have a Bible I like and am used to using. I’d prefer not to have to buy a new one to use these studies. And I am fairly certain the members of my small group might feel the same. How can I use your studies with a traditional Bible?

Your concern is perfectly understandable. We anticipated it, and that’s why we designed these guides so that they can be used with any kind of Bible. Each session is typically devoted to a natural section of a biblical book, and as the instructions at the beginning of the guides explain, “You’ll be able to identify these sections easily because they’ll be indicated by their opening lines or by some other means that makes them obvious.”  In fact, since the sessions go sequentially through biblical books, in each new session you can just pick up where you left off the last time.  So even with a traditional Bible, you’ll get much of the benefit of approaching the biblical books through their own natural structures rather than through the later artificial additions of chapters and verses. You don’t need to get a whole new Bible just to use these guides.The Books of the Bible

That much said, you will definitely have the best experience with these study guides, and in your small group discussions, if you do use The Books of the Bible.  Without chapters and verses, the Bible reads like the collection of books it really is.  I invite you to to give this way of reading Scriptures a try–I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised!  (You can find out more about The Books of the Bible by reading this Wikipedia article.  You can download and preview several biblical books from the edition here. To find out how to order a copy, see this post.)

I think you’ll quickly adjust to reading and discussing the Bible without using chapter and verse references. You’ll find that this is much closer to the way you’d discuss any other book, for example, in a book club.  You’ll discover that you can refer to places in the passage descriptively (“When Nicodemus first arrives . . .”) or by quoting short phrases (“When he says, ‘We know that you are a teacher who has come from God . . .'”). It doesn’t take long to catch on.

I wish you and your small group a great experience, whatever Bible you use with these guides. (But I definitely encourage you to check out The Books of the Bible!)